Docker gets minimalist with plan to migrate images to Alpine Linux


Rumor has it that Docker Inc., the company behind Docker containers, is planning to switch from Ubuntu to the lightweight Alpine Linux OS as the host environment for Docker images.

The story came to our attention by way of The VAR Guy, who spotted a comment from Solomon Hykes, founder and CTO of Docker, in a Hacker News thread. In it, Hykes stated the company has hired the developer of the Alpine Linux distribution to assist with the planned migration.

“Incidentally, we have hired Natanael Copa, the awesome creator of Alpine Linux and are in the process of switching the Docker official image library from Ubuntu to Alpine,” Hykes revealed.

For those who’re unfamiliar with Alpine Linux, it describes itself as an open-source, “security-oriented, lightweight Linux distribution based on musl libc and busybox”. The OS, which is designed for servers and secure computing environments, has been designed to be as lightweight as possible, and simple to use.

If the story is true, it doesn’t mean Docker wouldn’t work on Ubuntu any longer – it would – but it wouldn’t be the default platform anymore.

According to Hykes, Docker is keen to switch to Alpine because it’s a more minimalist operating system than Ubuntu, which ships with dozens of programs and features that are unnecessary for Docker containers. The idea is that by running Docker containers on a minimalist platform like Alpine, it would reduce overheads, The VAR Guy reported.

Cloud computing expert Brian Christner also weighed in to the debate, saying that users would likely see benefits such as increase speeds when downloading, installing and running their images on a more lightweight host. There would also be security benefits too, thanks to the smaller footprint. Finally, migration between hosts would also be faster, which would be an advantage for HA/DR configurations.

Still, not everyone agrees. Some posters on the Hacker News thread said that Docker containers are better off being run on a more heavyweight Linux distro like Ubuntu, because it provides more tools for developers. One poster also pointed out that the switch isn’t really necessary, because it’s fairly simple to strip down Ubuntu to the bare essentials if you really want to.

For the majority of users it’s unlikely that the change would impact the way they use and distribute Docker containers, VAR Guy reports. Users will still have the option of choosing whichever GNU or Linux distribution they want, and most will likely choose whatever they’re most comfortable with.

We should note that Docker has yet to make any official announcement regarding a change of default host.

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